In his essay, Thoreau observes that only a very few people — heroes, martyrs, patriots, reformers in the best sense — serve their society with their consciences, and so necessarily resist society for the most part, and are commonly treated by it as enemies. Thoreau, for his part, spent time in jail for his protest. Many after him have proudly identified their protests as acts of civil disobedience and have been treated by their societies — sometimes temporarily, sometimes indefinitely — as its enemies.
In his essay, Thoreau observes that only a very few people — heroes, martyrs, patriots, reformers in the best sense — serve their society with their consciences, and so necessarily resist society for the most part, and are commonly treated by it as enemies.
Thoreau, for his part, spent time in jail for his protest. Many after him have proudly identified their protests as acts of civil disobedience and have been treated by their societies — sometimes temporarily, sometimes indefinitely — as its enemies.
Throughout history, acts of civil disobedience famously have helped to force a reassessment of society's moral parameters.
The ultimate impact of more recent acts of civil disobedience — anti-abortion trespass demonstrations or acts of disobedience taken as part of the environmental movement and animal rights movement — remains to be seen. Certain features of civil disobedience seem vital not only to its impact on societies and governments, but also to its status as a potentially justifiable breach of law.
Civil disobedience is generally regarded as more morally defensible than both ordinary offences and other forms of protest such as militant action or coercive violence.
Before contrasting civil disobedience with both ordinary offences and other types of protest, attention should be given to the features exemplified in the influential cases noted above.
These features include, amongst other things, a conscientious or principled outlook and the communication of both condemnation and a desire for change in law or policy. Other features commonly cited — publicity, non-violence, fidelity to law — will also be considered here though they prove to be less central than is sometimes assumed.
This feature, highlighted in almost all accounts of civil disobedience, points to the seriousness, sincerity and moral conviction with which civil disobedients breach the law. For many disobedients, their breach of law is demanded of them not only by self-respect and moral consistency but also by their perception of the interests of their society.
Through their disobedience, they draw attention to laws or policies that they believe require reassessment or rejection. Whether their challenges are well-founded is another matter, which will be taken up in Section 2. On Rawls's account of civil disobedience, in a nearly just society, civil disobedients address themselves to the majority to show that, in their considered opinion, the principles of justice governing cooperation amongst free and equal persons have not been respected by policymakers.
Rawls's restriction of civil disobedience to breaches that defend the principles of justice may be criticised for its narrowness since, presumably, a wide range of legitimate values not wholly reducible to justice, such as transparency, security, stability, privacy, integrity, and autonomy, could motivate people to engage in civil disobedience.
However, Rawls does allow that considerations arising from people's comprehensive moral outlooks may be offered in the public sphere provided that, in due course, people present public reasons, given by a reasonable political conception of justice, sufficient to support whatever their comprehensive doctrines were introduced to support Rawls Rawls's proviso grants that people often engage in the public sphere for a variety of reasons; so even when justice figures prominently in a person's decision to use civil disobedience, other considerations could legitimately contribute to her decision to act.
The activism of Martin Luther King Jr.
King was motivated by his religious convictions and his commitments to democracy, equality, and justice to undertake protests such as the Montgomery bus boycott. Rawls maintains that, while he does not know whether King thought of himself as fulfilling the purpose of the proviso, King could have fulfilled it; and had he accepted public reason he certainly would have fulfilled it.
Thus, on Rawls's view, King's activism is civil disobedience. Since people can undertake political protest for a variety of reasons, civil disobedience sometimes overlaps with other forms of dissent. A US draft-dodger during the Vietnam War might be said to combine civil disobedience and conscientious objection in the same action.
And, most famously, Gandhi may be credited with combining civil disobedience with revolutionary action. That said, despite the potential for overlap, some broad distinctions may be drawn between civil disobedience and other forms of protest in terms of the scope of the action and agents' motivations Section 1.
In civilly disobeying the law, a person typically has both forward-looking and backward-looking aims. She seeks not only to convey her disavowal and condemnation of a certain law or policy, but also to draw public attention to this particular issue and thereby to instigate a change in law or policy.
A parallel may be drawn between the communicative aspect of civil disobedience and the communicative aspect of lawful punishment by the state Brownlee ; Like civil disobedience, lawful punishment is associated with a backward-looking aim to demonstrate condemnation of certain conduct as well as a forward-looking aim to bring about a lasting change in that conduct.
The forward and backward-looking aims of punishment apply not only to the particular offence in question, but also to the kind of conduct of which this offence is an example.
There is some dispute over the kinds of policies that civil disobedients may target through their breach of law. Some exclude from the class of civilly disobedient acts those breaches of law that protest the decisions of private agents such as trade unions, banks, private universities, etc.
Others, by contrast, maintain that disobedience in opposition to the decisions of private agents can reflect a larger challenge to the legal system that permits those decisions to be taken, which makes it appropriate to place this disobedience under the umbrella of civil disobedience Brownlee ; There is more agreement amongst thinkers that civil disobedience can be either direct or indirect.
In other words, civil disobedients can either breach the law they oppose or breach a law which, other things being equal, they do not oppose in order to demonstrate their protest against another law or policy.Civil disobedience definition is - refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government.
How to use civil disobedience in a sentence.
Civil disobedience, refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. Practitioners of civil disobedience usual base their actions on moral right and employ the nonviolent technique of passive resistance in order to bring wider attention to the injustice.
Risking punishment, such as. Description Also known as; English: civil disobedience. active, professed refusal to obey certain laws, demands, and commands of a government, or of an occupying international power.
Statements. subclass of. civil resistance. 0 references. On the most widely accepted account of civil disobedience, famously defended by John Rawls (), civil disobedience is a public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies.
Civil disobedience: Civil disobedience, refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition; its usual purpose is to force concessions from .
‘Ordinary laws and policies ordinarily deserve civil obedience, not disobedience.’ ‘The applicant, a prison officer, was charged with disobedience to orders.’ ‘On the other hand, the military takes a very dim view of disobedience of orders - and with very good reason.’.